Monday, December 22, 2008

Internet Access and Intellectual Freedom

Last year, Andrew Keen published The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture.

Though some critics simply view Keen as a crank, The NYT's Michiko Kakutani offered a favorable review:
This book, which grew out of a controversial essay published ... by The Weekly Standard, is a shrewdly argued jeremiad against the digerati effort to dethrone cultural and political gatekeepers and replace experts with the "wisdom of the crowd." Although Mr. Keen wanders off his subject in the later chapters of the book--to deliver some generic, moralistic rants against Internet evils like online gambling and online pornography--he writes with acuity and passion about the consequences of a world in which the lines between fact and opinion, informed expertise and amateurish speculation are willfully blurred.
Keen just published another essay, "The Internet Is Bad for You," over at

President-elect Obama intends to provide every U.S. citizen with broadband Internet access. In response, Keen argues that bad economic times, combined with a "radically unregulated Internet" available to millions of potentially unemployed (and disgruntled) Americans, will ultimately lead to "digital fascism."
Silicon Valley utopians argue that blaming the Internet for online hatred is like blaming Johannes Gutenberg, the 15th century inventor of the moveable type printing press, for Mein Kampf. And that’s true, of course. Yet given the way in which we know that the unfiltered Internet spreads corrosive lies and inflames prejudice, why would we want to give all Americans universal broadband access at the very moment when millions of them will be unemployed, disorientated and angry? Rather than spending billions of dollars in telecom technology, wouldn’t it be better to invest that money in local libraries and librarians, where their education could be supervised by accountable human beings.
Keen makes some thought-provoking points.

But he might read closely the American Library Association's "Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A" and "American Library Basics."

Both documents perhaps challenge his idea that librarians should provide "supervision"--which sounds a lot like "gatekeeping" in Keen's description--for which they are accountable (but to whom exactly?).
What Is Intellectual Freedom?

Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.

Why Is Intellectual Freedom Important?

Intellectual freedom is the basis for our democratic system. We expect our people to be self-governors. But to do so responsibly, our citizenry must be well-informed. Libraries provide the ideas and information, in a variety of formats, to allow people to inform themselves.

Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.
If you enjoy Keen's contrarianism, have a look at Lee Siegel's Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob.

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